Some couldn’t care less about those who run afoul of the law, even after they have served time for their crimes, but Brian Kopperud believed in redemption.
For decades, he was a county corrections official who talked about and practiced the principles of racial equity.
At his Rosemount home, Kopperud was the exuberant host, so welcoming, in fact, that son Ryan said of his father and mother, Jill: “The doors were open. Their arms were open. The bar was open.”
Kopperud died unexpectedly Aug. 19 of natural causes. He was 61.
Word of his passing spread quickly among employees in Dakota County, where he was beginning his fifth year as director of community corrections, and in Hennepin County, where he had spent the bulk of his career and was remembered in a departmentwide e-mail as a dynamic and passionate leader, the right man for good times and bad.
“Brian offered so much in life,” wrote Carrie Scardigli, a manager and longtime friend in the Hennepin County Department of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation. “Whether it be what’s new in evidence-based practices, to what new recipe or home improvement he was working on. However, nothing held a torch to his family.”
Among the e-mail’s recipients was Kopperud’s daughter Erin, who followed in her father’s footsteps as a Hennepin County probation officer, inspired by the humanity and the dignity he brought to his work.
“He was a true believer that everyone can change for the better,” Erin Kopperud said this week.
Brian and Jill Kopperud grew up in Minneapolis and attended Washburn High School. Though not high school sweethearts, they became inseparable soon afterward. They were married for 37 years and remained best friends throughout the relationship — even as people joked about couples going crazy while cooped up in a pandemic.
“We were the lucky ones,” Jill Kopperud said.
Brian started with Hennepin County in 1987 as a chemical dependency counselor and later served as a probation officer and then in various supervisory roles before moving on to Dakota County in August 2016. Because the county was smaller, he figured there’d be less red tape to create change, and he was reinvigorated by the work, his wife said.
Two years ago, the Star Tribune reported on how Kopperud worked to provide transportation to county jail inmates who when released in Hastings often find themselves without rides and walking along Hwy. 55 to St. Paul.
“I don’t think we can go, ‘You got yourself into this pickle, now get yourself out,’ ” Kopperud said then. “Sometimes people don’t have the resources, nor do they have the skill set.”
All the while, he managed to separate his work from his life at home. There, friends could walk in without ringing the doorbell. Those who brought wine often ended up taking it home. His gift was hospitality.
Asked if he had a signature dish, daughter Erin laughed and said that the signature was the sheer quantity of food being served.
Said son Ryan, “There was just this energy and over-the-top passion that came out in everything in his life.”
Left unfulfilled was his father’s dream of opening a bed-and-breakfast. But the family has found comfort, his wife said, in the community he built.
In addition to his family, Kopperud is survived by brothers Steve of Washington, D.C., and Dean of Hopkins.
A celebration of life is being planned for next summer. The family also is in the beginning stages of creating a foundation to continue Kopperud’s “lifelong mission of unstoppable good.”